Coming off of Tuesday night’s 4-3 shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes, the Philadelphia Flyers conducted a regular practice session at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ on Wednesday. The Winnipeg Jets come to town on Thursday night.
Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz took a maintenance day off from practice. He is expected to play against the Jets.
With flu-riddled Michael Raffl still not ready to return to the ice, rookie forward Petr Straka remains with the team. Straka will play in his second NHL game come Thursday evening.
Scott Laughton (suspected concussion) skated on his own in the morning but did not join the rest of the team during practice. After practice, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said there has been progress over the last couple days.
Nicklas Grossmann, rehabbing a right shoulder injury sustained on Jan. 8, participated fully in practice with regular partner Mark Streit. However, both Grossmann and Flyers head coach Craig Berube said that the defenseman needs a few more days of practice before he will be ready to return to the lineup.
The lefthanded-shooting Grossmann said different shoulder injuries create different complications in being ready to return: for example, pokechecks versus slapshots. As a strength-oriented player whose best asset (apart from shot-blocking) is pinning opponents to the boards and otherwise engaging in close-contact battles in the trenches as well as stick-on-stick battles, Grossmann feels he needs some more time to be ready but is getting closer each day. Board work was not part of Wednesday’s practice.
Grossmann declined to set Saturday’s game against Toronto as a specific target date to return. He also did not rule it out as a possibility. The next few days will bring more clarity.
Asked about what Grossmann brings to the lineup, Flyers goaltender Steve Mason deemed the sometimes-maligned Swede as “an underrated player” whose shot-blocking and sheer physical strength make his life easier as a goaltender.
Mason himself just returned to the lineup on Tuesday, playing 59-plus minutes in relief of Ray Emery after the Flyers faced an early 2-0 deficit. The conditions were far from ideal. Mason had not had a bonafide practice in two-and-a-half weeks since injuring his right knee and was battling the remnants of the flu. Somehow, he stepped up to make 22 saves on 23 shots in the game (yielding only a breakaway goal to Tobias Rieder) and then went 3-for-3 in the shootout.
After Tuesday’s game, Mason said that he did not feel fully comfortable in net until overtime, as he had “tunnel vision on the puck” and was not reading plays developing as well he typically does The goaltender said that his biggest focus in Wednesday’s practice would be to get back in the swing of reading plays.
According to Mason, Wednesday’s practice session (albeit nothing out of the ordinary) was helpful in getting back to his normal baseline of tracking the play. He saw a lot of line-rushes, cross-ice plays, and players moving in front for deflection attempts.
Mason said that apart from doing some additional exercises and working with the training staff, the right knee injury he suffered earlier this month will not affect his practice routine or game availability. He is ready to go whenever Berube tabs him.
With Mason back in the lineup, the team reassigned goaltender Rob Zepp to the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Wednesday morning.
Some of the post-practice focus of the day centered around the increased offensive production and scoring opportunities that another sometimes-maligned player, R.J. Umberger has been getting since December. Berube said that Umberger has been doing an improved job of getting to areas where he has a chance to score. The coach still thinks the entire line of Sean Couturier, Umberger and Matt Read could stand to shoot the puck more frequently.
Couturier, Read and Umberger are often used as a defensive shutdown line against other club’s top offensive units. Berube was asked what he considers to be a successful barometer for the trio: should they first and foremost be a defense-first unit or should they try to push the attack more?
Berube gave a similar answer to other times he’s been asked this question, saying he wants to see all three players be consistent in a 200-foot game and compete consistently well in all three zones. He doesn’t consider defensive duties to be a barrier to creating offense nor would he want to see the line collectively start cutting corners to look to score more goals.
The Flyers’ projected lineup for Thursday is as follows:
10 Brayden Schenn – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek
18 R.J. Umberger – 14 Sean Couturier – 24 Matt Read
51 Petr Straka – 25 Ryan White 17 Wayne Simmonds
76 Chris VandeVelde – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 40 Vincent Lecavalier
55 Nick Schultz – 32 Mark Streit
15 Michael Del Zotto – 22 Luke Schenn
26 Carlo Colaiacovo – 47 Andrew MacDonald
35 Steve Mason
[29 Ray Emery]
Scratches: Scott Laughton (upper body, suspected concussion), Braydon Coburn (IR, left foot), Nicklas Grossmann (right shoulder), Zac Rinaldo (suspension), Michael Raffl (flu). POST-PRACTICE QUICK HITS
* More and more, it seems like the Flyers are on the brink of announcing that Kimmo Timonen will play hockey this season. While he refused to divulge any specifics, Hextall said after practice that Timonen will be on blood-thinners (Xarelto) for a few more days but a final decision is close. The GM and the player spoke earlier in the day and Hextall said there is still a process ongoing with numerous doctors.
* Hextall admitted that the team has already looked at the salary cap implications of activating Timonen from long-term injured reserve. The GM said the team would have to make a move and would deal with it if and when the appropriate time comes. Timonen is making $2 million this season in base salary. The Flyers are operating with approximately $1.47 million of wiggle room because of LTIR space. Hextall also said that the team’s place in the standings in a few weeks could also impact a timeline.
* Braydon Coburn remains off-ice with a lower-body (left foot) injury sustained on Jan. 12. He took treatment on Wednesday. The approximate four-week timeline holds, according to Hextall.
* Blueline prospect Shayne Gostisbehere continues to make progress in his recovery from a partially torn ACL sustained in early November. Hextall estimated that the rookie may be able to return to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ lineup in the latter part of next month.
* Fellow Phantoms defenseman Mark Alt “still has some time to go” to return from a broken hand, according to Hextall. He still needs a few more weeks. The second-year pro has missed much of the 2014-15 season due to a shoulder injury that cost him a month and the current hand injury. Hextall said Alt timeline is a standard one and there have been no setbacks.
* Zac Rinaldo skated as an extra forward at practice. On Thursday, he will serve the second game of his eight-game NHL suspension.
* Condolences go out to Flyers television play-by-play broadcast Jim Jackson on the passing of his 81-year-old mother, Eve, on Jan. 22. She had been battling Parkinson’s Disease for several years. Last spring, after a Flyers practice in Voorhees, JJ was telling me about his mom, who seemed like an extraordinary lady.
* The Boston Bruins placed Simon Gagne on waivers on Wednesday for purposes of releasing him from his one-year contract with the team. Gagne recently announced that he would not rejoin the Bruins this season after taking personal leave to be with his family. The longtime Flyers’ forward’s father, Pierre, passed away on Dec. 26 after a battle with liver cancer.
* New York Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck received a $2,000 fine from the NHL for diving in last Monday afternoon’s game against the Flyers. Clutterbuck did not receive an embellishment penalty on the play, which resulted in a hooking penalty against the Flyers’ Jakub Voracek. The offense was Clutterbuck’s second of the season, according to the NHL.
* Flyers 2014 second-round pick Nicolas Aube-Kubel will look to continue his personal goal-scoring streak when Val-d’Or hosts Gatineau in QMJHL action on Wednesday night. Aube-Kubel has scored at least one goal in five straight games (seven goals, three assists) and in seven of his last eight. For the season, Aube-Kubel has 24 goals and 50 points in 41 games.
* Earlier this week, the San Jose Sharks signed 20-year-old Blaineville-Boisbriand Armada (QMJHL) forward Nikita Jevpalovs to an entry-level contract. The undrafted player attended the Flyers’ rookie camp in September as a tryout invitee. Jevpalovs played in the Flyers Rookies vs. Capitals Rookies game at the Skate Zone, working on a line with 2014 sixth-round pick Radel Fazleev and tryout player Louick Marcotte.